EX stands for Exhibitions, Exposure and Experience

Artsy Shark is please to reprint a classic article by guest blogger Aletta de Wal.  We are teaming up by conducting a FREE Art Marketing teleclass on October 13th.  Please join us!  Click here to register. Scroll down, enter your information and list any burning art marketing questions you may have.  Aletta will be answering those.  The call is open for discussion with many other artists. We look forward to speaking with you then!

Spring has sprung and exhibitions are flowering everywhere you turn. The sights and smells are intoxicating. Like flowers, the best shows of fine art do not sprout overnight.

Exhibitions are a great way to push yourself to get that next body of work out there. But making the art is only half the story. The rest is marketing.  Yes – I said marketing – not sales, though sales may happen if you have done a good job of tending your garden of collectors.

When I go to outdoor art shows and gallery exhibits I always ask artists, “How is it going?” The most common answer these days is “I’ve had a lot of traffic, but no sales” or “Just a few card sales.” They are disappointed and look at me funny, when I say “That’s great! How are you going to keep those people interested? If they did not buy today, they at least know what you have to offer.” Thinking people will buy right away is like expecting to get married on the first date (It happens, but rarely, and it doesn’t always lead to happily ever after – but I digress).

Exhibitions are first and foremost a marketing activity. Remember at the heart of your marketing is a series of conversations designed to build a bridge between you, your art and your audience. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Viewers need time to absorb your work.

Exhibitions help you build your audience. A good experience for your audience leads to art sales. Notice I said “leads to,” not “results in.” You build a path to sales through exposure. People who like your art and like talking to you may also spread the word to others. If you see your exhibition as a sales event that you “have to get through,” your visitors will feel like numbers. Instead treat everyone like an honored guest.

Exhibitions are only a punctuation point – at best a comma – not THE END. Any exhibition of your work is only part way down the path to loyal collectors. If you rush things, you may seem overeager and that may scare away someone who needs time to consider purchasing your work. Let them get to know your art and to know and trust you, before you ask them to hand over money.

Exhibitions help you build your mailing list. A mailing list is your most effective tool for keeping in touch. “Out of sight is out of mind.” Make sure to get permission to market by asking your guests a simple question. “Would you like to get beautiful postcards about my new work?”

Exhibitions help you build relationships. Relationships (not shows) lead to sales. Ideally you know most, if not all of the people on your mailing list. If not, this is a chance to get to know them. If you want them to buy your work, or tell others about it, make them feel important.

The road to art sales takes patience and attentiveness. Building relationships with art lovers is a lot like looking for a life partner. It takes time and permission to go the next step. You can’t market without a mailing list and you can’t sell without relationships with the folks on it. Without a loyal audience, you will never have the sales you want. In fact, people who like you and your work become your sales force. Ask them to bring their friends and make the day even more fun for everyone.

Use the letters “ex” in exhibitions to remind you that you want exposure. Create a great experience for attendees and you will get word-of-mouth buzz about how great your work is and what a fine artist you are. A good first experience paves the way for purchases or referrals.

The more organized you are, and the earlier you start any marketing, the better your results. When I help artists upgrade their exhibitions , I suggest starting 6 months ahead, but that is in a perfect world, and that is rare. So start where you are, and keep making small improvements each time. Every successful artist I know started out small and never stopped.

Remember the A.C.T. mantra “Exposure = Success“. What are you waiting for? Pick one thing you can do better at your next exhibit and start working on how you will make it happen. ACT now, or forever hold your art pieces.


  1. Wow – I loved this post. I am just starting out and have only exhibited once so far – thinking along these lines helps take the pressure off to sell, sell , sell.
    I will make it my aim to simply build up my mailing list and then take it from there.

  2. That’s a great idea, Karen. Build your mailing list and stay in touch with your audience. As you build collectors, you will also find that you make sales through word of mouth referrals. They are the best!

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